Commentary

Karen Blakelock: Transportation Climate Initiative is a good deal for Vermont

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Karen Blakelock, who is a master’s of Environmental Law and Policy student at Vermont Law School in South Royalton. 

Overconsumption is on the line for Vermonters this holiday season, and not in the way you might think. The governor’s Department of Public Service reports that we send over $150 million a year out of state to pay for heating and transportation fuels — we don’t have to.  There are more efficient ways to heat our buildings and to get a mile down the road.

The governor has the opportunity to join the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) and has seen recommendations to button up Vermonters’ homes so they waste less energy — both of which will save us money. 

Governor, here is your chance to help Vermont into the 21st century: Approve Vermont’s next step in joining the Transportation Climate Initiative by the end of the year so that we can invest in our rural communities. This is our chance to join alongside other New England and Mid-Atlantic states to finance cleaner, more efficient transportation solutions that will save money, reduce pollution, and allow us to provide services that rural Vermonters need. 

Lack of transportation options pose a unique problem for Vermont as the rural nature of our state presents unnecessary challenges to those without a car. One-third of Vermonters do not drive, and our lack of public transportation makes it difficult for rural community members to get to the grocery store, visit the doctor, and access basic services. Ultimately, this amounts to an equality issue as rural Vermonters lack access to employment and education opportunities without transportation options. TCI will help us change this.

TCI aims to improve public health, limit climate change causing emissions, and help citizens and businesses save money. We can accomplish these goals by building a more diverse and resilient transportation system. 

It is estimated that hurricanes Irene and Sandy caused as much as $250 million in damages to Vermont’s roads and bridges. If we pass up the opportunity to fortify our transportation infrastructure through TCI generated funding we’re certain to experience similar catastrophic costs in the future.

Funds earned through TCI will be invested back into our communities in the form of public transit options and community land-use planning to increase rural Vermonters’ access to goods and services. This initiative will save us money and improve our current situation, so what are we waiting for? 

The governor has heard similar recommendations in the past. Weatherization assistance provides a comparable opportunity for Vermonters to save money and resources by improving fuel efficiency in Vermont homes. In doing so we reduce energy use, respond to health and safety concerns, and cut costs. Almost a third of Vermonters would benefit from legislation that supports fuel efficiency by way of weatherizing our homes. 

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Critics are quick to label these programs “taxes.” They are misguided. In the long term, it is fiscally irresponsible to let TCI pass Vermont by. We are a regional and national leader in our environmentalism, and Vermonters deserve the opportunity to participate in a money-saving initiative alongside the states we consider our peers. 

The data is clear: support for fuel efficiency (through TCI and weatherization assistance programs) is good for the planet, Vermont communities, and our wallets. 

Unfortunately, Gov. Phil Scott’s position maintains the status quo: a reality in which transportation and heating costs present an unnecessary burden for Vermonters. The governor has until the end of the year to make a decision: choose to invest in our communities, or let Vermonters continue to throw money out the window while the solution is waiting on his desk to be signed.

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John Spencer, Arlington


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John GreenbergChuck LacyPeter ChickBrad CorneliusRobert Gifford Recent comment authors
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Tom Sullivan
Tom Sullivan

“Gov. Phil Scott at a press conference Thursday addressed the issue of a regional climate initiative, saying he would not support any form of a carbon tax”

Thank you Governor Scott

http://www.truenorthreports.com/gov-scott-on-vermonts-potential-tci-membership-im-not-supportive-of-a-carbon-tax

Vic Noble
Vic Noble

TCI robs the affordable options from rural Vermonters. I am not going to risk my or my children’s lives walking double digit miles to the grocery store on roads with no shoulder space and I don’t have all day to wait for the transit bus to come down my rural road. A nod for TCI is a nod for another nail in the coffin of Vermont.

John Freitag
John Freitag

It would be helpful for those promoting this option to lay out the specifics of costs and benefits of participating in TCI for the people of Vermont. A regional approach to addressing climate change is a step it the right direction but any efforts should not disproportionately effect those least able to bear the financial burden.

Lester French
Lester French

TCI is a tax on those purchasing fuel with the government skimming money to pay the bureaucrats administering the programs. Those getting weatherization support must be able to provide money to get the job done. Rural public transportation? Does ridership make the service effective in cost and environment saving? TCI will provide well paying jobs for state workers who administer the programs and select contractors at the expense of our residents.

Randall Bates
Randall Bates

TCI is just another attempt at virtue signaling. There are many things that require immediate attention in Vermont. Substance abuse related deaths, forming a business and resident friendly environment and education funding reform are just a few examples. Thank you Govenor Scott for taking a pass on TCI.

Robert Roper
Robert Roper

“Critics are quick to label these programs “taxes.”” Because they are taxes. Specifically, this is another attempt at putting lipstick on the pig that is a Carbon Tax. How is the government artificially raising the cost of a gallon of motor fuel by 18 cents, pocketing the money, and spending it on government programs not a tax? Adding an 18 cent tax to gasoline and diesel will not help our economy. It is regressive, and, in a rural state like Vermont, particularly cruel. In addition to the direct tax, it will raise the costs to run school buses and municipal plows, which will mean higher property taxes (already forecast for a 6% increase this year). No thanks!

Glenn Thompson
Glenn Thompson

The fact remains, Vermont, for the most part, is a rural state where homes are spread out, really spread out in many areas. Public transportation is just not feasible. Unless of course, our geniuses in Montpelier propose adding the costs to provide public transportation in all of Vt. to a silly carbon tax? I can’t even imagine how much all of that will cost?

Utopia only exists in Lala land.

Ritva Burton
Ritva Burton

Sorry Ms. Blakelock but I totally disagree with you about TCI! A tax is a tax is a tax. Vermonters do NOT need any new taxes, especially on heating fuels, gasoline for our cars that are very necessary in order to live in VT. Have you been reading any of the articles on our DECREASING tax base, Vermont’s aging population, people leaving the state, etc.? Thank you Gov. Scott for NOT supporting TCI.

David C. Austin
David C. Austin

Decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels is a good thing. That being said, I am not convinced that the TCI plan is a responsible way to attempt to achieve that objective. It appears to be incredibly complex, and it will likely benefit the moneyed interests involved in the Renewables Industry at the expense of those least able to afford the increased out of pocket expenses it will entail. We have plenty of experience with government applying complex “solutions” to things, and it never ends well. Healthcare and Education come to mind. We need to place more value and emphasis on conservation and true sustainability. The business climate in Vermont has an optics problem. We should try to fix it, not make it worse. We should be focusing on creating economic opportunity that is right-sized for the smaller communities throughout our state. Jobs close to where people live makes sense. Driving or riding an hour each way to work (even in an electric vehicle) doesn’t.

Jan van Eck
Jan van Eck

Far more interesting would be the production of a local direct-replacement drop-in liquid fuel for truck diesel and home heating oil, made in Vermont for a dollar a gallon. The new fuel I am developing has a cetane of 63; your local pump diesel comes in at perhaps 42. This clean-burning stuff makes no soot, has plenty of oxygenation, de-carbonizes your engine, and the waste products are protein-rich. OK, so it is a bio-diesel, and you have to build a refinery to make it, but so what? Dramatically lowering fuel costs puts more money directly into the pockets of rural Vermonters, something this obsession with TCI does not do. And the State can place an excise tax on excess product shipped out-of-State, a funding source the Democrats will surely love.

But here’s the real question: will anyone in VT put up the $200MM to build such a refinery? Of course not; that requires imagination. It is a lot easier to go tax oil-based fuel by legislative fiat. So that’s where we head. Enjoy.

Hilton Dier
Hilton Dier

As Randy Udall put it, “Eventually the politics of energy surrenders to the physics of energy.” We can argue about the benefits of TCI all we want, but eventually the unstoppable decrease in Energy Return on Investment (Energy gained from oil drilling compared to energy spent)) and the depletion of oil resources will decide for us. A transportation system based on a quarter of a billion two-ton vehicles (each going 14,000 miles a year at highway speeds with one occupant) is a phase of history with an end date. We can prepare for the next phase or we can crash into it. The answer isn’t a quarter billion electric cars or biofuel cars, or any kind of car. It’s a whole different way of getting from point A to point B and organizing our landscape. I won’t like it any more than anyone else, but geology and physics will force our hand. TCI is really just one small step along the way to the inevitable post-car future.

Scott Beck
Scott Beck

Tax the hell out of people and then rely on government to improve their lives. What could go wrong?

John McClaughry
John McClaughry

I read this encomium eagerly looking for the final clinching argument for TCI – that it will at last cure the heartbreak of psoriasis. I was disappointed.

John McCormick
John McCormick

Ms. Blakelock, you described the details and benefits of TCI very clearly:

It is a regional approach to raise significant off-budget resources to fund State-wide transportation and mobility options to reduce traffic congestion and the energy burden of rural and low income drivers.

As you know, it will b e modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) of which Vermonters have been members since 2008. It returns about $16 million annually to the State and used to fund Efficiency Vermont and the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation that provide weatherization services and financial incentives to invest in energy efficiency appliances, heating systems, etc.

Governor Scott encourages us to shift from gas/diesel vehicles to electric vehicles. That is the future and especially for our children. TCI can greatly expand his EV incentive program without adding to the State’s budget.

Tim Vincent
Tim Vincent

Not one specific – just pixy dust and unicorns.
Where does the money come from?
What, exactly, is the substance of this initiative, cost, metrics?

Robert Gifford
Robert Gifford

“Good for our wallet” means Vermonters pay more in taxes so the State government can collect a bunch of money and then disperse it through a number of programs that really only benefit the bottom third of the population. I live in rural Vermont and there is no way anyone is coming to work on my house for free or give me rides for free. The simple reason is I would not qualify. I worked to hard and saved too much to prepare for retirement. All TCI is increased taxes with an aim of modifying behavior. My electric bill is a great example. GMP buys hydro Quebec power for 5.6/Kwhr and then they sell it to me. My total bill divided by the number of Kwhr I use works out to 15 cents per Kwhr. All the service charges and taxes triple the cost. TCI wants me to switch to electric heat and transportation. I will not have to buy gasoline or heating oil but I will have a 500 dollar a month electric bill. Does the commentator really think the state will give me money? They only ever take money.

Brad Cornelius
Brad Cornelius

From a transportation perspective the bulk of Vermont’s emissions is directly a result of our tourism economy. 13 Million visitors annually dwarfs the 400 K drivers in the state when it comes to carbon emissions. Any intervention on transportation carbon emission needs to be geared towards the largest source of pollution.

Peter Chick
Peter Chick

Vermont promotes tourists driving about looking at leafs and tax their poorest as they go to work. In stead of let them eat cake it is let them buy an electric car. Got to love progressives.

Chuck Lacy
Chuck Lacy

Fuel taxes cover less than half the costs of the roads. We could start by asking drivers to cover the full cost of roads through fuel taxes. EV drivers should pay their fair share also.

While I see the logic behind the carbon tax. I don’t see it happening. I suggest we start by asking drivers to pay the actual costs of the roads.

John Greenberg
John Greenberg

“GMP buys hydro Quebec power for 5.6/Kwhr and then they sell it to me. My total bill divided by the number of Kwhr I use works out to 15 cents per Kwhr. All the service charges and taxes triple the cost.”

Taxes and other government-added charges show on your bill as line items which describe what they are. They are NOT included in the cost per KWH on your bill.

The basic reason you pay more for power than its wholesale cost is that in addition to the power itself, you are also paying for the distribution and maintenance of the lines needed to get it from where it is generated to where it is consumed.

In addition, for investor-owned utilities like GMP, you also provide a regulated return on the assets they use to provide the power.

It’s way past time for VT Digger or other Vermont news outlets to provide their readers with a clear primer on how utilities work economically, how they are regulated, the relationship between wholesale and retail power prices, etc.

 

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